Theresa May and Prime Minister Beata Szydło of Poland gave press statements in Warsaw after their meeting on the UK-Poland relationship.
Prime Minister’s statement
I am delighted to be here in Warsaw today, in such a momentous week with the visit of Pope Francis and the celebration of World Youth Day.
I wanted to come here early on to tell you, Beata, and the people of Poland, that Britain attaches a huge importance to the relationship between our 2 countries.
It is a partnership that goes back a long way, we will never forget the Polish pilots who braved the skies alongside us in World War 2 to stand up for freedom and democracy across Europe.
And it is a partnership that will endure long after the UK has left the European Union. Indeed, today we have discussed how we can continue to deepen our co-operation, following on from the agreement late last year to work more closely together.
Let me say a few words on Brexit, the bilateral relationship and our security and defence co-operation.
First, we have discussed how we make a success of Brexit and work together to maximise the opportunities for both our countries. The UK and the EU need to take time to work out our objectives for the negotiations on the UK’s departure and the future relationship.
As Prime Minister, I will seek to address the concerns of the British people about free movement, while recognising the importance of a close economic relationship between the UK and the EU.
Of course, there will be different interests and complex issues to resolve but I firmly believe that if we approach this in a constructive and positive spirit then we can pave the way for a calm and orderly departure.
In that context, I want to be clear that Poles living in the UK continue to be welcome and we value the contribution that they make to our country. We condemned the shameful and despicable attacks against Polish communities and others in the wake of the referendum result. Hate crime of any kind, directed against any community, race or religion, has absolutely no place in British society.
I understand that Poles currently living in the UK want to know whether they will retain their rights once the UK leaves the EU. I want and expect to be able to guarantee their rights in the UK. The only circumstances in which that would not be possible would be if the rights of British citizens living across the EU were not guaranteed.
As I’ve said, the UK’s exit from the EU should not weaken our relationship with Poland, indeed we should strengthen it.
Last year, the UK was Poland’s second largest trading partner, and UK exports to Poland were worth more than £3 billion pounds. We should keep up our broader co-operation on science, innovation and energy.
And we have agreed today that we will press ahead with annual bilateral summits to drive forward our relationship. And I have offered to host the first of those in the UK.
Co-operation on security and defence is one of the most important areas of our growing strategic relationship.
Britain and Poland are leading players in NATO and we both meet the commitment to spend 2% of our GDP on defence.
The United Kingdom will always stand by its NATO obligations, including ensuring the security and safety of Poland. Only this month, at the NATO summit here in Warsaw, the UK committed to increasing the number of troops present along NATO’s eastern flank, with the deployment of an infantry company here to Poland.
We are also working closely together to fight wider threats to global security.
Poland has played a leading role in international efforts to secure peace and stability, from Afghanistan to Ukraine.
And in the face of the ongoing terrorist attacks in Europe, it is vital that countries like the UK and Poland continue to counter Daesh in Iraq and Syria. Working together is the best way to protect our way of life and our shared values from those who are intent on destroying them.
To conclude, Britain will continue to stand by our European partners and stand tall in the world.
Leaving the EU presents an opportunity to strengthen our relations with countries around the world. And that is firmly what I intend to do.
I am looking forward to developing the strongest possible relationship with Poland, to working with you to make Brexit a success, and to safeguarding the security of all our people.
Beata Szydło’s statement
I would once again like to welcome the Prime Minister here to Poland, to Warsaw, and I would again like to congratulate her on becoming Prime Minister. I am very happy that the Prime Minister is here in Warsaw, on her way from Bratislava. Bratislava is now holding the Presidency of the European Union. Warsaw is now holding the presidency in the V4. So, indeed these 2 visits are very significant and we are very happy to see the British Prime Minister here in Poland today.
We’ve had a very good conversation. We’ve spoken about what are the most important issues for both of our countries, in particular our bilateral relations, and it is with great satisfaction that I would like to inform you that we have made a decision to begin formal intergovernmental consultations. The terms of course are still to be discussed, but I can already tell you with satisfaction that this declaration, and this obligation that was already made in December of 2015 by Prime Minister David Cameron, when he proposed for such G2G consultations to take place between our 2 governments, will actually take place. And it is extremely important from the point of view of our mutual relations.
It is with great satisfaction that Poland observes that the United Kingdom is our partner, a strategic partner, a very important partner of this country. It is such a great partner, an important partner now, and it will remain such an important partner in the future. We have common trade relations, economic relations, but we also have common issues with regard to security questions. During the NATO summit, decisions were made on strengthening the eastern flank, and the United Kingdom will be very much engaged in this process as the framework nation for Estonia.
It all shows that our mutual relations, the common projects that we envisage together, they are very important for Poland, and these relations that we will continue to build in the years to come will definitely be aimed at a very strong deepening of our co-operation.
We have spoken about issues also that are related to security, but also foreign affairs, foreign policy. We have established that before the upcoming summit of the European Union, we will consult each other when it comes particularly to the eastern policy and other topics that will be discussed there. Not only is our position similar, it is almost the same when it comes to migration policy, but also eastern European policy. And this is very important because despite the changing political circumstances for Poland, the British position, and the fact that this position is so very much in line with ours, is of upmost importance.
Of course it was difficult to escape the topic which is very lively debated in Europe and in Poland obviously too, the question of Brexit. Poland respects the sovereign decision of the British people. We shall not present any terms or conditions when it comes to the date of triggering Article 50, and initiating the formal procedure of exiting the EU, because we believe that this is the sovereign decision of the UK, and also the European Union needs time to prepare itself for this process.
It is also very important to draw conclusions from the British referendum, conclusions that should be drawn by the European Union because it’s not that the British decision was without a reason. And so, we need to think, in the European Union, what happened exactly that such an important state, such a big economy, decided to leave the Union? The European Union needs to take on board the issue of important reforms, necessary changes that need to be implemented for it to become a stronger institution, better governed, and an institution that first and foremost fulfils the expectations of the Europeans. And Poland will be very active in this process.
We’ve also spoken about the situation of Polish citizens that now live in Britain and who also work there, and I can say that there is a full declaration made by Madam Prime Minister that, for the time being, the situation of Polish citizens will not change. It will not change as long as the United Kingdom remains a member state of the European Union. Once the UK leaves the EU, it will be based on reciprocity, so the situation of European citizens will be just as the situation of British citizens in the EU.
So I would again like to thank the Prime Minister for her visit to Warsaw. This was a very good conversation, and this was the first conversation, but I hope that this is just the beginning of our future co-operation. Thank you very much, Prime Minister.
I would like to invite you to look at the future of British relations with the European Union after Brexit. In the media we have already seen a suggestion that the UK could retain access to the single market and get restrictions on free movement for 7 years. Has such a proposal been made and was it found acceptable?
As I have mentioned before, the UK has not yet formally started the negotiations of leaving the EU, and when it does, only then will we be discussing specific proposals. What is important is for the relations between Poland the UK, the bilateral relations, to remain as close as possible. And as Prime Minister May has mentioned, we’ve agreed for these already very good relations to be deepened.
We are quite well aware of the fact that we have very many Polish citizens living in the UK who most of them will probably want to stay there. It is now the role of the Polish government, but also the British government, to negotiate conditions, and to try to settle our mutual future relations in a manner so that the rights of Polish citizens in Britain, and British citizens in the EU, are maintained and respected.
So, this is something that is still ahead of us. What we’re doing today is we’re appreciating the bilateral relations, enjoying them, but there is no doubt in my mind that once the UK leaves the EU, the EU should have the tightest possible relations with the UK. Britain stays in Europe, and we need Britain, just as Britain needs the EU, and this is the role of politicians now so that we are able to settle – or arrange these relations in such a manner so that our mutual relations between the UK and the EU remain the best and the closest possible.
I should also underline what I said at the beginning, that the European Union should also do its homework, learn a lesson from the British referendum, take into consideration that reforms were expected by the British. If no conclusions by the EU are drawn, then possibly in these negotiations between the UK and EU, it will simply be more difficult to find common points.
Today, the UK is still a member of the EU, and as member of the EU it maintains both its obligations and its rights. Until the UK formally leaves the EU, nothing changes.
If I could just reiterate what the Prime Minister has just said, for as long as the UK is a member of the European Union, we will respect the rights and obligations of membership of the European Union. There was a very clear message from the British people in the Brexit vote that they want us to ensure that we can have some control on the movement of people from the EU into the UK in future, but we also want to get the right deal on trade in goods and services. And those economic ties between the United Kingdom and the EU and member states within the European Union are important, but we’re not looking at a particular model that already exists, we’re looking to ensure that we develop the deal that is right for the United Kingdom, and I believe also that will be a deal that will be right for the European Union.
Prime Minister May, Poland has clearly benefited hugely from the fact that Polish people have been able to work and live in Britain. Given the fact that you’ve indicated that you want to restrict the number of Polish people coming to Britain in the future, how will you convince your counterparts here in Poland that that will not incur a significant economic cost for Britain? And if I may, there was a lot of debate over immigration during the Brexit campaign. Do you believe that Polish people have made a positive contribution to our country?
And Prime Minister Szydło, if I may? What do you think the implications are of Brexit for Poland, not only for Polish nationals living in Britain, but also for the Polish-British relationship which has been so close on issues like Ukraine and the general vision for the European Union?
First of all, if I may, yes, as I indicated in my remarks earlier, we value the contribution that has been made to the United Kingdom from Polish citizens who have come to live and work in the UK. While we are members of the EU, there will be no change for those Polish citizens. As I said, we respect the rights and obligations of membership of the European Union, and I fully expect and intend to be able to guarantee the rights of Polish citizens when we leave the EU, but as I said earlier, it is important of course that we see the rights of the British citizens who are living in other member states in the European Union also being respected. As the Prime Minister referred to, there is a reciprocity in this matter.
As regards to the future, it is a very clear message that has come from the vote of the British people, that they don’t want free movement to continue in the way that it has been in the past, that they do want some control in relation to free movement. That, of course, will be one of the issues that we will be looking at in the negotiation that we take forward. As I say, we recognise the contribution that Polish citizens have made to the UK, and continue to make as they continue to live in the UK.
I subscribe to the opinion of Prime Minister who said that the Polish citizens working in the UK have had a great contribution also to the development of the United Kingdom working for economic growth and the growth of the British GDP, so having good relations between the UK and the EU in the future about the free flow of people is very important. Free movement of people is very important, and most probably that will remain the key issue in negotiations between the 2 parties, and it will not be easy obviously, but at the same time I think that both for the UK as well as for the EU, it is very important for this particular point, this particular issue, 1 of the 4 leading freedoms that are creating the single market to be maintained. The 4 freedoms remain the essence of the European economy. We want to retain them.
However now, partners have to try and seek a compromise that has been sought after for so long. What is most important for me now is that these agreements which will be discussed, negotiated, the compromise that will be looked for, that the politicians actually listen to what the Europeans have to say. We really need to start drawing conclusions from what has happened, listen to the citizens, listen to what they say and on that basis try and improve what needs to be improved for the European Union to be stronger, to be developing and so that the relations between the UK and the EU are the best possible in the future.
It is with satisfaction that I can say that both in terms of the eastern policy in relation to Ukraine’s security and fighting terrorism, migration policy, our positions are pretty much on the same page. The United Kingdom sees these issues exactly in the way that we do here in Poland. Before us is the October summit, where it’s planned to discuss the Eastern partnership, and as I’ve said, the Prime Minister and I have agreed to hold consultations before we actually go to Brussels.